1984 was a pretty good year – at least, it wasn’t as bad as George Orwell suggested. I appreciate it for being the year of my birth. But more historically significant was the release of Ghostbusters, one of the finest films ever made. With a self-explanatory premise, an all-star cast, and a classic NYC backdrop, the movie was an instant classic. But after twenty-five years, a movie sequel, two cartoons, and thousands of toys, the original movie is still the only good thing to come out of the franchise (except Ecto Cooler, that shit was delicious). Does a new video game stand a chance at changing that?
The answer is no. Ghostbusters: The Video Game, much like the long-dead husks every ghoul leaves behind, is an empty and soulless affair. It brings almost nothing new to the table. The act of ghostbustin’, which is supposed to make you feel good, does not. Its potential for fresh gameplay is instead shoe-horned into a heavily-scripted third-person shooter package.
You play as the rookie, yet another pointlessly silent protagonist who acts as the team’s experimental equipment technician. The equipment in question turns out to be little more than counterparts of typical shooter weapons. Ghostbusting versions of shotguns, machine guns, flame throwers and rocket launchers are all accounted for. The result is that most of the game feels a lot more like stepping into the shoes of Doom guy than a ghostbuster.
Sure, there are gameplay elements that mimic actions from the movies, but they’re all-too-often inconsequential. The two big Ghostbusters moves in the game are trapping and scanning. Trapping means wrangling ghosts with your proton pack and pulling against their motions to force them into a trap. The wrangling is unresponsive though, and without anything dynamic to change it up, this mechanic quickly grows repetitive.
Then there’s scanning with your PKE meter. Equipping it takes you into a first-person view where you explore an area for ghostly activity. Scanning for hidden collectibles is fun, especially since your discoveries are displayed in the Ghostbuster’s office later on. However, the majority of the scanning sections are canned moments in the story. Your partners’ demands to “equip your PKE meter” quickly grow old as the mechanic is never really leveraged in any clever way.
Beyond that you spend the majority of the game hoofing it down winding hallways and taking on mobs of corporeal manifestations. Stay Puft, for example, launches near endless hordes of marshmallow monsters that explode after some concentrated fire. These sequences feel overly busy – rather than craft interesting battles, the developers seem content with just dumping a bucket full of enemies on your head.
It’s a strange way to handle combat when you consider how linear and scripted the level design is. Endless hotel hallways and absurd, maze-like paths through open graveyards funnel you from one section to the next for no reason. It’s not as if the game is full of cool scripted moments, and the combat seems more suited to open environments. The world is little more than a way to funnel you from one story point to the next.
That story, so hyped by its creators as a spiritual sequel to the movies, is in fact completely devoid of spirit. Like a poorly-mastered greatest hits collection, the game lazily recreates formerly great scenes like Stay Puft’s attack and The Grey Lady. The only new parts are completely abstract ghost world scenes that have more in common with Gears of War than any scene in the movies.
That it features the voice cast of the movies and faithfully recreates elements like the Ghostbuster’s suits is moot. The plot is bad even by video game standards, despite being crafted by Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis. Even removed from its context and taken as the literal third movie in the series, it makes Ghostbusters 2 look like a masterpiece.
The je ne sais quoi of New York City that was so prevalent in the films is replaced with bland textures and busy graphics. The music is a repetitious mix of cues from the movies’ score without one bit of wonderfully cheesy 80’s music to be found. Awkward facial animations and haphazard voice performances only ensure that every last bit of humor is stripped from each scene.
Licensed video games are notorious for their lack of quality, and taken in that context, Ghostbusters: The Video Game isn’t the worst example out there. Its gameplay is simplistic and inoffensive – it may be a missed opportunity but it’s not broken. Plus the mediocre story is par for the video game course at this point. But the thing that seals its fate is how heartless it is. This is Ghostbusters, flash-cloned, sterilized, and repackaged for a new audience. If that’s the best you have to offer with a 25-year development window, you just shouldn’t bother at all.